Emily VanCamp and Treat Williams in Beyond the Blackboard (2011)

A Treat for Everwood Fans

From an early age Stacey Bess (Emily VanCamp) knew she wanted to be a teacher and whilst life made her put a hold on her plans at the age of 24 she qualifies and is ready for her first job with visions of teaching in a beautiful classroom with adoring children. How different could it be as the only position available is teaching homeless children at a shelter, a place which is filthy, full of rats and shakes when ever a train rumbles past. Despite Stacey's initial reservations about teaching the homeless she refuses to quit, even when she discovers she is pregnant.

When I read the blurb in the TV listings for "Beyond the Blackboard" I sort of knew what to expect as it basically said a teacher helps make a difference in the lives of homeless children. And I am sure having read that you will probably know what to expect as well because teaching dramas where a teacher inspires a class of troubled children is a well used theme. To be honest that is not what attracted me to "Beyond the Blackboard" but the fact it starred Emily VanCamp and Treat Williams who I enjoyed when they starred together in the TV series "Everwood". But ironically "Beyond the Blackboard" impressed, not in that it was a great movie but thanks to the true story which it is based on it has some nice differences to your stereotypical inspirational teacher movie.

Liam McKanna in Beyond the Blackboard (2011)

So as already mentioned dramas about inspirational teachers are quite common and I am yet to come across one which does things differently mainly because they all tend to be based upon a true inspirational story where a teacher helps a class of troubled students. And at its heart "Beyond the Blackboard" is no different because we have Stacey Bess in her first teaching job initially finding it tough but then through passion and determination helps a group of troubled children. You sort of can guess the inspirational ending within the first few scenes and whilst the familiarity certainly makes it easy to watch you do sort of half hope for something different to occur.

But here is the thing because "Beyond the Blackboard" is slightly different as we have Stacey finding herself teaching homeless children in a ramshackle classroom in an old railroad station with no supplies and little support. It means that whilst we get a few familiar issues such as parents not being supportive there is a twist on them because the parents are homeless. And whilst there are more cliche elements as we watch Stacey make a difference not only in the children's lives but also their parents there are some charming twists on the familiar to make it more interesting. Plus we also have Stacey's initial issues and difficulties when it comes to teaching the homeless which she has to overcome.

It certainly makes it far more entertaining and whilst none of the performances in "Beyond the Blackboard" are great they are solid with every actor managing to deliver a likeable character. Emily VanCamp as Stacey may struggle with delivering the emotional difficulties at the start of the movie but she delivers the joy of her character making a difference. Treat Williams delivers his usual friendly supportive performance exuding warmth from the minute we see him and Steve Talley as Stacey's supportive husband is solid and yes nice. But in many ways it is the children who shine and Liam McKanna as Danny and Paola Nicole Andino as Maria both deliver confident performances.

Now whilst "Beyond the Blackboard" is entertaining, charming and inspirational, ideal viewing for a lazy afternoon it does have one issue which is that it is too nice. Everyone turns out good, every hardship leads to a positive, there is no violence, no swearing, no really nasty characters and when you consider the various characters which includes a father who drinks and a couple of thieves it fails to come close to being realistic. Having said that making "Beyond the Blackboard" realistically gritty would have turned it into a very difference sort of movie, darker rather than pleasantly inspirational whilst also heart warming which is in all reality the purpose of it, to be heart warming.

What this all boils down to is that on one hand "Beyond the Blackboard" is a rather routine teaching drama, telling the sort of inspirational tale used in various movies made a little more interesting by having it based around homeless children. But on the other hand it is a charming, wholesome, and heart warming movie which if all you want is a movie which is nice and positive it will be just the thing.